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Beginners Mind

Q:  I am a young Saalish man who participates fully in the customs of my people as they are being taught by our elders in accord with our ancient traditions.  These ceremonies and songs are meaningful to me, yet I suspect that there is a great deal more involved in these practices than their faithful reproduction.  Certain initiation rites for example, are not practiced because they are deemed too dangerous.  Can meditation add something in my attempts to reach back to the source of my peoples' wisdom?


R:  An interrupted lineage functions something like a severed spinal cord.  Corporate entities which establish complex customs, myth and religious mechanisms communicate essential and subtle wisdom and knowledge.  When these cultural artifacts cease, the mere forms may not be enough to transmit the most subtle knowledge.  In the human body we find that the nerve tissue of the spinal cord does not regenerate easily once severed.  Similarly, when cultural or religious lineages are severed they are often difficult to mend.


Recently we have discovered the healing power of stem cells, which are vital but devoid of specialized characteristics, enabling them to regenerate nerve tissue.  In the Zen tradition the meditating mind functions something like a cultural stem cell in the sense that what is cultivated is the 'Beginner's Mind' or the 'Original Mind'.  This mind, like the stem cells, is devoid of opinion, judgement, attachment or definition, yet alert and engaged.  It may be the case that only with the cultivation of such a mind can cultural damage such as that inflicted  upon aboriginal cultures in North America and many other places be repaired.  In the stillness of meditation, the very subtle patterns of knowledge and wisdom which have been encoded into customs such as the potlatch or the sun dance may take root in a modern mind otherwise too tainted by the effects of cultural genocide.  Native peoples would benefit from adding Zen inspired meditation to each traditional practice which they are trying to reintroduce.